No solution near, talks fall apart

March 06, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The baseball labor negotiations fell apart yesterday, leaving little hope that the 1995 season can be spared the prospect of replacement games.

Major League Baseball Players Association head Donald Fehr went home to New York after expressing disgust at ownership's latest proposal. Most of the ownership contingent headed for Palm Beach, Fla., where the owners will begin a three-day meeting tomorrow to work on expansion and discuss the deteriorating labor situation.

"There is no use staying here," said special mediator William J. Usery. "Obviously, I'm very disappointed and disturbed. Coming out of Milwaukee, I felt so good about the stage being set here."

Everybody did. The informal meeting two weeks ago in the hometown of acting commissioner Bud Selig appeared to break the ice in the long stalemate, but six days of talks here only succeeded in aggravating an already inflammatory relationship between players and owners.

There were occasional bursts of optimism -- and even a legitimate chance to settle the dispute -- but the result was the same as it has been every time the two bargaining teams have gotten together: more posturing, more finger pointing, more reason to wonder if the players and owners ever will be able to reach a compromise.

Both sides had agreed that a settlement needed to be in place by yesterday to keep open the possibility of starting the regular season on time with major-league players. Now, it appears that the season will begin with the strikebreakers, though Opening Day might be delayed if an agreement develops in the next week or so.

"I suppose there is still a chance," Fehr said, "but there is a pretty clear indication to me that the owners have already blown off the start of the season."

The owners are using replacements to play the exhibition season, and have given no indication that they have lost their stomach for the strikebreakers strategy, even though the public response has been less than enthusiastic.

"The game is going to go on," Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said. "The only question is which players are going to be on the field. We can't let this paralyze the whole industry and the whole country as far as baseball is concerned. It just wouldn't be fair."

The Scottsdale meetings blew up after the most active day in the 27 months since the owners reopened the previous labor contract. Both sides made proposals Saturday, but the nature of those proposals left both unwilling to keep bargaining.

The players knocked $5 million off the threshold for their proposed 25 percent luxury tax on team salaries. The owners proposed a comprehensive plan that was similar in some ways to the settlement that Usery proposed in February, but fell short in enough key areas to prompt union charges that management had backtracked on its previous position.

"All I know is that the proposal we got was several measured steps backward and it was an in-your-face proposal," Fehr said. "That, coupled with Jerry McMorris' statement to me that he's in absolutely no hurry to make an agreement, indicated that we're still in the testing stage. When they're done with that, they'll tell me."

Both sides left representatives in Arizona, but each seemed more interested in maintaining appearances than in continuing negotiations. Union lawyers Lauren Rich, Doyle Pryor, Michael Weiner and Steve Fehr remained, and Mr. McMorris announced that Milwaukee Brewers Vice President Wendy Selig-Prib and Chicago Cubs President Andy MacPhail would remain for the owners, but both apparently were to leave today to attend the owners meeting.

"It's consistent with their entire bargaining approach," Fehr said. "They come out here and make suggestions about how much they want to do something, and then they do everything except try to make a deal."

McMorris apparently wasn't ready to characterize the Scottsdale summit as a total loss. The negotiations ended with both sides finally tied to a clear bargaining position, which had to be considered progress after seven months of shadowboxing. Still, he was clearly disappointed with the outcome.

McMorris indicated that the owners probably would not be interested in resuming serious talks until after the Palm Beach meeting.

The next major development could come out of Washington, where the National Labor Relations Board is expected to issue an unfair labor practice complaint against the owners later this week.

If that complaint is issued, the NLRB could seek an injunction to force owners to revert to the working conditions in the last labor contract. In that case, the players have said that they would go back to work, but the owners have indicated that they will lock the players out until a new economic system is in place.

If an injunction were not issued, the players would be left with just a couple of options -- sue for peace or push the strike well into the season and hope that replacement ball fails.

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